Richard stood in the heat of a late August afternoon, waiting for the bus. He half-closed his eyes, and reached a hand up to his mouth as he let out a large yawn. Staring at the road, he watched as Andrea walked past, the girl who lived in the house with her backyard facing his. They'd lived adjacent to one another for about four years, yet had never actually exchanged a word.
Andrea settled a few paces away from him, determined to wait for the bus as well. He watched her watching him, although they both feigned disinterest (Richard had read somewhere that humans were by far the most social of all the social species, and from a completely cerebral perspective he found that made sense. Yet the realisation that he was, in fact, a social creature, had never quite sunk in for Richard).
He averted his eyes, which were starting to hurt from a mixture of the sun's glare and his own fatigue. His lowered gaze settled on a small green bush which grew in front of the church. After standing idly for a few moments, he reached out his hand and plucked off one of its crusty twigs. As Richard methodically shredded its leaves, it occured to him that maybe he had injured the bush. What does the bush care? Richard challenged himself. It's just cells.
Richard's eyes burned unbearably as his brain scrambled to provide a response, and he was struck with a sudden, rather unpleasant thought. Humans are only made up of cells, he reasoned, and maybe that's why there's a higher power that thinks it's alright to hurt us. That's why people are killed, and oppressed, and made to suffer through horrible things every day. What if to God I'm just as insignificant as a tiny cell of a tiny leaf in a giant forest?
Richard glanced up, and checked for the bus, which wasn't anywhere in sight. Anything to distract himself. Well that's optimistic, he thought, unable to help himself, That's assuming there is a God. He looked over at Andrea, whose horsey face was set in her usual dopey expression. This reassured Richard somewhat. If Andrea wasn't worried, then why should he be?
Richard quickly glanced behind him as he noticed an increase in the activity at the church near the bus stop. There must have been a bean supper or something, Richard thought dazedly, as he watched a steady stream of old ladies emerge from the tan brick building. Some sped by in wheelchairs, while other clung weakly to the arms of their aged children, who, in Richard's estimation, weren't looking so great either. His gaze settled on an elderly woman pushing a wheelchair across the parking lot of the church. She appeared to be in her seventies, and her slow gait made Richard wonder why the woman wasn't in a wheelchair herself. Instead, contained within the wheelchair was a chubby figure clad in navy blue sweatpants. As they approached the bus stop, Richard realised it was a young man, whose constant writhings indicated that he was affected by some sort of mental illness to an extremely severe degree. Richard glanced up at the old woman again, who gave him a friendly smile. Richard hesitated, then gave her a polite smile before glancing away, ostensibly to check for the bus. He didn't want her to think he was staring.
The clouds overhead, always on the move, suddenly obscured the sun and the street became perceptibly darker. Richard's face relaxed as he found himself able to fully open his eyes without squinting in the sun's glare. Remembering Andrea's presence, he turned his head and for the first time he stared her in the eye, taking in the face which he'd been training himself for years to view only as scenery. Richard smiled unapologetically at her unflattering outfit consisting of a frumpy denim skirt and a too-revealing tank top. Andrea, possibly mistaking Richard's dazed grin for a friendly overture, smiled back.
Well what do you know? Richard thought to himself, somewhat taken aback. He hesitated only a second. Then he headed over to where Andrea stood, possibly to initiate their first verbal exchange in four years. And why not? After all, she was only cells. Just like Richard.
"Although we are by all odds, the most social of all social animals--more interdependent, more attached to each other, more inseparable than bees-- we do not often feel our conjoined intelligence... the circuitry seems to be there, even if the current is not always turned on."
-Lewis Thomas, "On Societies as Organisms"